by Wan Ting Koh
MORE than half of the student leaders surveyed in a forum said that they will accept but not encourage alternative family structures to the traditional family structure.
This was the conclusion of a four-stage poll, where 500 student leaders, comprising of junior college, polytechnic and university students, were asked to choose between two options: to accept but not encourage alternative family structures or to educate the public about homosexuality and gradually open up as a society.
A majority – 56.5 per cent – voted to accept but not encourage alternative family structures, while the rest – 43.5 per cent – voted for educating the public about homosexuality and gradually opening up.
These youths were surveyed about their views on Singapore affairs at a forum by the Association for Public Affairs at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy last year, as part of the association’s inaugural project, called the SG100 Compass (Youth Edition). Their responses were compiled in the Dream Future Report and a separate report with policy recommendations was submitted to members of the Cabinet last week, said the association’s president Charles Phua.
Apart from policy-related issues, the student leaders were asked for their standpoint on three contentious issues: If Singapore should adopt a welfare or workfare stance, how open Singapore should be as a society and whether there should be freedom of speech.
Students were asked their take on family structures as an indicator of how open they wanted society to be. In the first round, students were given three options, which included the choice for supporting traditional family structures only. The second round took place after various positions were argued and discussed by students leaders, while the option for educating the public about homosexuality was only included in the third round, after a Question and Answer section with an expert.
In the final round, participants were limited to the two of the most popular options from the previous round.
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Amongst those who were all for traditional families was Raffles Junior College student Emma He.
She wrote in her position paper that it was important for the G’s policies to promote traditional families as children raised in single parent households were “often disadvantaged in terms of resources, guidance, and the stability of their familial background”. She added that Singapore was still a “predominantly conservative society”, hence it was important to reflect this in policies.
Another participant, UniSIM college student Nitish Singh, supported embracing individual choices on family structure. In his position paper, he wrote that even though the majority of Singaporeans were still conservative, not giving equal rights to those in alternative family structures was a form of discrimination which shouldn’t be practised.
“People should not be treated any less just because of who they fall in love with… By us accepting individual choice on family structures, we are fostering the true concept of equality where we respect every individual for who they are and not treat minorities as inferior”, said Mr Singh.
Here is the perspective of a student leader who adopted a more conciliatory view – that Singapore should accept the existence of alternative family structures but not promote or encourage them – reproduced in full:
Ms Saiyidah Sainal, UniSIM College
Today I would be elaborating on the reason and need for the society to accept the existence and not discriminate alternative family structures.
With globalization, different cultures and views are more spread across and exchanged so much that ideas that was once foreign to one culture, become acceptable now. This effect is being accelerated with movie stars such as Angelina Jolie that had children before marrying and the world champions her for being able to successfully raise her adopted and biological children. A by-product of this has resulted in the build-up and existence of alternative family structures that differ from the usual setting such as single parenthood, underage parents and cohabiting adults.
Discrimination is not only exclusive to judgement from other members of society but as well as discrimination by government policies against such alternative families. In a recent article by Teo You Yann, it was revealed that there are some benefits that single parenthood does not currently benefit from, such as 8 additional weeks of paid maternity leave and tax incentives. This is also the case for families such as underage parents and cohabiting adults where they are not receiving the same form of benefits such as buying of HDB flats. They would have to wait till they are 35 to do so.
However, the government do take measures to assist children from alternative families by having various policies to help the children in their education programmes. These policies are independent of the marital status of their parent. Thus with such steps, we are slowly but surely showcasing existence of alternative family structures in our society.
Singapore is well known for its meritocratic ruling which does not favour one group over another. By not embracing the different family structures seen today, Singapore is bound to face certain losses especially in this globalised world. Due to the changing global landscape, the concept of family units are evolving and it is widely debated that it shouldn’t just be based on a nuclear family structure that has been propagated constantly to us.
Due to the growing number of alternative families such as single parenthood, cohabiting adults and underage parents seen in Singapore, it is high time that society should lend a caring shoulder and hand to aid them away from discrimination.
Though, I would like to stress that although I have been addressing on the need to embrace the existence of such alternative family structures as a part of life, we do not need to promote or encourage such formations. Mr Lee Hsien Loong commented that Singapore still a relatively conservative society that is deeply rooted in traditional family value of a nuclear family. The society is still deeply embedded in the need for our society to hold Asian values as a part of the Singapore identity.
Furthermore, the article explained that such family formations do have a place in Singapore and they are not discriminated for their way of life. However, he mentioned that Singapore is still not ready to legalise homosexual marriages because it still offends a significant group of conservative members of the society such as the ones who advocate traditional family formations and religious groups.
While it seems that the Americans have managed to successfully affect a paradigm shift in the battle for equal rights for homosexual, the same, however, cannot be said for Singaporeans. This is because Singapore is still deeply rooted in Asian values that make it hard for the society to change overnight.
However, over the years, we have seen how globalisation become more viral; thoughts and preference are slowly evolving. The idea of an alternative formation should be slowly introduced into the society to allow for the older and more traditional people in the society to eventually accept such forms of family structures.
What we need is a caring society that sits on kindness and love. That extends to help families in need even alternative ones. The world is changing and many views are being put across. Regardless of different backgrounds we need to work together as a nation to achieve progress in our society.
Position paper reproduced with permission of Association for Public Affairs president and Organising Chairman of SG100 Compass Charles Phua.
Featured image by Shawn Danker.
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